Director PS Vinothraj / 2021 / India

Viewer advice: Contains scenes of animal cruelty

Awarded the top prize at this year’s International Film Festival Rotterdam, this lean, arresting debut follows a primal father–son road trip across the arid landscapes of southern India.

Drunken, chain-smoking Ganapathy (a brilliantly detestable Karuththadaiyaan) is determined to find his estranged wife, who has fled their drought-ravaged agricultural village in southern India to escape his unchecked aggression. He sets out on a cross-country journey to her family village, with their young son Velu (evocative newcomer Chellapandi) in tow – but the boy is not completely convinced a reunion is for the best.

Filled with stark, frequently breathtaking compositions, canny stylistic shifts and bursts of uncompromising, sometimes squeamish brutality, this first feature from Tamil director PS Vinothraj is one of the most arresting debuts in years. As father and son trek, on foot and by bus, across a desolate landscape that dwarfs them, Pebbles unfolds into an archetypal road movie, an insight into the dynamics of power and violence, and a deeply human study of poverty’s grim cycle.

“A beautifully crafted, precisely plotted debut … boasting an exquisite use of framing and a deeply sympathetic, never cloying child as protagonist.” – Variety

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